Response To World AIDS Day An Encouraging Sign Earlier this week, in acknowledgement of World AIDS Day, clinics around the world joined forces to coordinate aggressive HIV/AIDS testing. One Baltimore clinic had such a big response that it ran out of testing kits, a possible sign that the stigma associated with testing for the virus could be fading. Rodney Moore of Baltimore's Park West Medical Center shares his observations.

Response To World AIDS Day An Encouraging Sign

Response To World AIDS Day An Encouraging Sign

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Earlier this week, in acknowledgement of World AIDS Day, clinics around the world joined forces to coordinate aggressive HIV/AIDS testing. One Baltimore clinic had such a big response that it ran out of testing kits, a possible sign that the stigma associated with testing for the virus could be fading. Rodney Moore of Baltimore's Park West Medical Center shares his observations.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

People all over the world marked the 20th annual World's AIDS Day at the beginning of this week. The event causes us to focus our attention again on the more than one million Americans who are living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

The crisis is complicated by the number of people who are infected but don't know their HIV status. Public health officials say testing could be the key to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS, and that's the aim of community leaders in Baltimore, who are helping to get more people tested.

I'm joined by Mr. Rodney Moore. He's an outreach worker at the Park West Medical Center in Baltimore. Welcome, Mr. Moore. Thanks for joining us.

Mr. RODNEY MOORE (Outreach Worker, Park West Medical Center): Thanks for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: And I wanted to ask you that Baltimore has one the highest rates of new HIV infections in the country. How did you become involved in the fight against AIDS there?

Mr. MOORE: Well, I'm originally from Washington D.C. I worked at a Whitman-Walker Clinic. I felt the need to move to Baltimore because there's an epidemic going on in the United States from HIV and AIDS. I got involved in the Park West Health Systems through a number of organizations that I deal with.

MARTIN: I understand that you had a special event this week to promote HIV testing. Tell us about it, and how did it go?

Mr. MOORE: It actually went great. The theme was Stop AIDS, Keep the Promise. We tested over 40 people in the city of Baltimore. If you don't know, for those who live in Baltimore, the zip code 21215, 82 percent of the population is infected with this disease. So, we wanted to go out and spread the word along with 92Q, who was there to simulcast with us. We had a lot of young people turnout, and that was great.

MARTIN: And I understand that, even though it was pouring down rain, that you had such an excellent turnout that you actually ran out of test kits. Now, that - in a way that's a great sign, but what do you think made the difference in getting people to come out?

Mr. MOORE: We have an excellent outreach team at Park West Health System's (unintelligible) program. And we got the word out. We started out late, but we did get the word out to people. And because our outreach team is out there every day in the community putting the word out for people to get tested, so that they know their status, we had a great outpour of people even in the rain. It was unfortunate that we ran out of tests. But fortunately, we had a backup system where we had more tests coming, so.

MARTIN: What kinds of folks showed up? Men, women, young people, older people, mature people?

Mr. MOORE: Mostly young people. Mostly young people. We had the age ranges from 30 to probably 20, which was surprising . We had some older people that showed up as well, but it was a great turnout.

MARTIN: You know, it's been - we've done a lot of reporting on this issue over the years, as, of course, we should. We recently interviewed a young woman who talked about - who has written a memoir called "Young, Gifted, and HIV Positive." And one of the thing she put in that - even though she was born well after this epidemic had been underway, I mean, that the AIDS epidemic has been a fact of life the entire time she's been alive.

She said that she was still having unprotected sex, and then she was shocked when she was diagnosed. And I asked her, well, what did you think AIDS was all about? And she said, well, you know, I thought it had something to do with Africa. Do you find that attitude where you are? And how do you counteract that?

Mr. MOORE: Unfortunately, I'm not surprised about that. A lot of people are just not educated. There's a segmentation on HIV and AIDS, and people don't want to address it. But we in the African American community have to address it because it's affecting us all in every aspect. So, it's not surprising that you will hear something like that.

The main thing is, we have classes like HIV 101 where we can educate the community about this disease. And I think, once people are educated and understand where it comes from, how you contract it, and how you can be helped about it, I think once we educate more and more people, more and more people will be - won't be reluctant to get tested.

MARTIN: And once a person gets tested through your program, what happens?

Mr. MOORE: Immediately, we get them plugged into services. If it comes up positive - it's a confidential test - we immediately get them to our site at The Plaza site. We have outstanding team at The Plaza. We have a doctor by the name of Dr. Obussamy(ph), who is excellent in the field.

And we just get them plugged into case management because we understand that all aspects have to be looked at, the mental aspects of finding out that you're positive, the sociological aspects of finding out that you're positive. So, we have all those things in place at the Hidden Garden Program, and we try to make people feel comfortable. We don't want people to feel uncomfortable about their status.

MARTIN: What do you think over the course of the time that you've been doing this? Do you see a change in the willingness of people to - I don't want to say take it seriously, but understand that AIDS really is something that has something to do with them, that could have something to do with them. It is not something that just is, you know, you see about on CNN or far away other people.

Mr. MOORE: I think we've progressed over time. I think there's still much more work to be done, especially with our young people. You made a statement about people finding out their status and still practicing unprotected sex. We have a lot of people that are incarcerated who know their status.

So, we're trying to - through our prison system - we're trying to get people who are released from prison, before they're even released, to get them into services, so that when they are released, they'll be able to see a doctor and see a case manager. But overall, I think we have to get away from the stigmatization because people don't want to address the issue of HIV and AIDS. Yet, it's becoming of epidemic proportions. So, we have to educate. Knowledge is the key.

MARTIN: But educate people about what? On the one hand, it seems to be that we have contradictory, you know, impressions about HIV/AIDS. On the one hand, people say, well, they understand that it's incurable. On the other hand, there is a sense that some people have that it's just like diabetes. It's just as manageable and therefore not something that they even need to really be that concerned about because they're not changing their behavior. So, what is it that people need to be educated about?

Mr. MOORE: There's a lot of treatment. A lot of pharmaceutical companies are coming out with different drugs. There are excellent treatment regimens that people who are positive can adhere to. But more importantly if you know your status, first of all, you should be with a primary care doctor. You should be seeing someone on the regular basis.

More importantly, just by seeing a doctor, you can get plugged into the services that will educate you about this disease. A lot of people have this myth about this disease where you can contract it through saliva. You can contract it through all types of stuff, and they don't know. So, it's important that we understand that there may not be a cure for HIV and AIDS, but there are treatments available. And we've had studies to show that people have lived 20, 30 years with the disease and living well.

MARTIN: And we also in this country have really curtailed the transmission of HIV from mothers to infants to newborns, so that's one important thing. Do you think we're going to get ahead of this thing in our lifetime, Mr. Moore, very quickly?

Mr. MOORE: Absolutely, absolutely. The technology is out there. The knowledge is out there. It's going to take a (unintelligible) of effort, though. It's going to take a community-based effort. It's going to take the church involvement. It's going to take the community involvement. It's going to take parents talking to their children. It's going to take the school involvement.

It's going to take an overall involvement from the community and society as a whole in order for us to bring the numbers down of new cases, in order for us to educate those people who are not infected so that they don't get infected. And more importantly...

MARTIN: All right. Well, thank you so much for what you're doing.

Mr. MOORE: I appreciate you inviting me.

MARTIN: OK. Rodney Moore is an outreach worker at the Park West Medical Center - and you're very welcome is what I should have said. He's an outreach worker at the Park West Medical Center in Baltimore. He joined us from member station WEAA in Baltimore.

And now, we want to hear from you. Have you, your friends, your love ones gotten tested? If not, what can community and medical leaders do to encourage you to get tested? To tell us more and to compare notes with other listeners, you can go to our blog at the Tell Me More page at npr.org. You can also call our comment line at 202-842-3522. Again, that's 202-842-3522.

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